Romans 12:11 NET - Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord.
“If you live for God hard, it’s easy! But if you live for God easy, it’s hard.” This old saying, while simplistic, is most often very true. It doesn’t mean that persecution, illness, accidents, and tragedies never come to those who are the most zealous and enthusiastic in their service to God. It means that - all things being equal - a Christian who lives for God with a true passion for worship, for prayer, for the Scripture, for evangelism, for generosity, for fellowship with others who are likeminded, etc., is almost always going to enjoy life way more than one who simply wants to avoid Hell, give a minimal commitment to Christ, or never be inconvenienced in terms of consistent spiritual pursuits.
What is zeal? Zeal is “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.” Zeal is the secret ingredient that makes living for God fun. It’s not extreme to have spiritual zeal. Fueled by God, in our zeal we prayed for long periods - rising early or staying up through the night. In zeal for God, we fasted for days, we studied our Bibles for hours at a time, we worshiped with unbridled exuberance or prostrating humility. In zeal for God, we witnessed boldly without embarrassment. In zeal, we gave of our time to be involved in the life of the church and in the lives of those we wanted to be saved. In our zeal for God, we could (and did) go to church night after night - Biblical preaching could never be “too long” for us. We came with an attitude of expectancy - a faith that knew God would do something amazing (and He did). In our zeal, we took risks of faith that allowed for some of our most powerful experiences in Christ and our most inspirational testimonies. We did not always have the greatest depth of wisdom, Bible knowledge, or even a long-term record of faithfulness through the decades with God. But neither did we sacrifice or serve out of grudging obligation, self-exaltation, or concern of what others might think of us… because we had zeal. Why? Because we had encountered God. The zeal and enthusiasm was real because we discovered how real God was and how active He would be in our day-to-day lives. Zeal was rocket fuel in our walking with God. Zeal and enthusiasm were simple ways we expressed love for God. So what became the enemies of our zeal and enthusiasm? Was it zapped by busyness as work and family responsibilities grew? Was it disillusionment as we were disappointed by the actions of someone we held in high esteem? Was it mistaken maturity - in that we learned that some of our beliefs and practices were not 100% Biblical, so we set aside our zeal as though it was inseparable from our faulty beliefs? Or was it simply lack of energy due to age or illness? Ironically, we may have been able to remain “faithful” even while our zeal reserves ran dry. In a church as a whole - it is fatal. Consider what Jesus told the church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation:
Revelation 2:2-5 NLT - “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.
It is possible to be a hardworking Christian who patiently continues in church while enduring the hardships of life. Christ applauds this. Mature Christians may also be great at not tolerating blatant evil nor false teaching. Perhaps most admirably, these faithful souls never give up! They will be patient, they will endure suffering, and they will not quit. Yet Jesus indicates that even in this state, it’s possible to lose your first love. None of the commitments of the Ephesians were wrong - they were all vital. Yet Jesus indicated that they had fallen. Not into false doctrine or unbelief. Not into laziness or quitting. But they fell away from love - love for Christ, and love for His body, the Church. Jesus examines not only our actions but also our motives, and He can see if we are motivated by love and faith. What was the answer? Do the first works. What did I do when my love for God and His church was the greatest? Go back to consistently doing those first works. More than likely, we will find that we devoted more undistracted time to God and His kingdom when our zeal was greatest. We likely lived a life more devoted to serving the church and making new disciples. How important to Jesus was this “return to the first love?” So important that the continued existence of the Ephesian church depended on their getting it back! Back…when living for God was fun. As it should be. May God renew our zeal for Him always!